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Ritchart making the leap

Pauley Pavilion performance a highlight for Forest Lake grad
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Correspondent
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Josh Ritchart was understandably a little awestruck last month when the UC Davis men’s basketball team visited UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. “I got to see all the championship banners,” the Forest Lake Christian School graduate said. “It was really great.” After the tip-off, however, Ritchart was all business. The 6-foot-9 freshman guard/forward scored a career-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field – including 5-of-6 from 3-point range – in UC Davis’ 74-67 loss to the Pac-10’s Bruins. “Every student-athlete who goes from one step to another typically has a signature moment where he announces himself to the world,” Aggies coach Gary Stewart said. “For Josh, the UCLA game was his. “We were confident that at some point he’d explode offensively, so it wasn’t shocking to see that. But that game certainly elevated his confidence level.” Ritchart has played mostly in a reserve role for the Aggies. Though he’d appeared in all 16 of the Aggies’ games entering Wednesday’s contest at Long Beach State, he’d only started one. “Josh has the ability to start for us right now,” Stewart said. “But we don’t want to overload him too much. We want him to feel comfortable and relax and play to the best of his ability. “We don’t want to give him too much to do so that he suffers from paralysis by analysis. We want to put him in a position to expand and grow as a player.” “At first it was difficult,” Ritchart said of not being a starter. “I was used to being on the court for the whole game (at Forest Lake Christian). But I’ve done well coming off the bench and giving us a scoring spark. If it helps the team, I’m happy to do that.” Ritchart’s sparks have sometimes turned into full-fledged flames. He’s either held or shared UC Davis’ team lead in scoring three times this season, twice reaching the 20-point plateau. In two of those games Ritchart was also the Aggies’ leading rebounder. As a result, Ritchart has seen his playing time increase. He estimated that he averaged about 12 minutes per game at the start of the season, but his playing time has nearly doubled since then. “Everyone’s a lot bigger and a lot faster, and everyone’s a really good player at this level (NCAA Division I),” Ritchart said. “Once I got used to the speed and how fast everyone was going, I started playing a lot better.” “It’s certainly helped that Ritchart has been eager to learn and grow as a player,” Stewart said. “His greatest value is that he’s immensely talented as a player, but he’s a far better person than he is a basketball player,” the Aggies’ coach said. “He’s a delightful young man to coach.” Ritchart ranks among UC Davis’ team leaders in several categories. Entering Wednesday’s game at Long Beach State, he was second on the Aggies in 3-pointers (19) and blocked shots (nine), fourth in rebounds per game (2.8) and fifth in points per game (7.3). Currently an economics major, Ritchart has not yet selected a career path for himself yet. “I’m still trying to figure out what my passion is,” he said. “I figure I’ll go into business or something.” He’s got a few more years to figure it out. For now, Ritchart’s focus is on helping UC Davis overcome its 6-10 overall start (1-3 in Big West Conference play) and reach the postseason. “We have big aspirations for conference,” he said. “We have a good enough and talented enough team to win it and even make a run into the NCAA Tournament. That’s what we’re hoping to do.” “His best basketball is ahead of him,” Stewart said. “He has a desire and a passion to play basketball, and he wants to improve. When all is said and done, I think he could be one of the greatest we’ve had here. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but he has a very high ceiling.”